Catalogue entry

[from] MULCHELNEY [T02337-T02342]

6 reliefs (details as below), enclosed in glass-fronted case, 43 × 48 5/8 × 8 3/4 (109.2 × 123.3 × 22.2)

T02337 JAN 14–65 (CAPRAIA) - PROJECT FOR FREE-STANDING RELIEF WALL 1965

Inscribed on reverse ‘Jan 14–65 (Capraia) Ben Nicholson project for free standing relief wall’
Oil on millboard, 13 3/4 × 10 1/4 × 1/4 (35 × 26.1 × 6)
Presented by the artist 1979
Exh: Ben Nicholson: Recent Work, Galerie Gimpel & Hanover, Zurich, June–July 1966 (not in catalogue); Ben Nicholson, Tate Gallery, June–July 1969 (116)

The artist presented this group of reliefs and paintings [T02337-T02342] to the Gallery to mark the opening of the new extension.

The gallery made a display case to the artist's specifications, within which he positioned each work exactly. Having done so he considered the group as a whole, in this arrangement, to constitute a serendipity and gave it the title ‘Mulchelney’ (Mulchelney, a village in Somerset, contains the remains of a medieval abbey). Nicholson wrote to the compiler in April 1981 that ‘The “place” virtually does not exist but the POETIC idea does exist mentally. I suppose a piece of “visual poetry”?’

In an earlier letter he wrote ‘So that I took a good deal of very considerable trouble to make it as one whole and it is not merely works enclosed in (a) glass case ... There are a number of works in the Tate very small and each enclosed in a glass case for protection but ... that is a different solution and mine is not intended in that way, it came about and has the incidental effect of being a protection.’

Several of the works were shown in the Tate Gallery retrospective exhibition of 1969. These works are all projects for wall sculptures, never built.

The only one of Nicholson's wall reliefs to be constructed to architectural scale was that shown at Documenta III in Kassel in 1964. It was subsequently demolished.

The most recent works contain references to the jugs and mugs that have been a subject of Nicholson's art for more than seventy years.

Nicholson has written to the compiler concerning the title of the works: ‘I think the titles as pencilled in are a continuation of the works in question. One does not, I feel, require any rational explanation of them but merely records them as written by this (artist): in fact there is no logical explanation necessary - after all it is not the museum's responsibility but the artists ... The details of title and dates of Mulchelney were deliberate and I suppose all of this is a strange kind of “poem”.’

Quotations are taken from letters to the compiler of 28 October 1980 and 14 April 1981.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1978-80: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1981